Ray Houghton's head delivered the majestic prelude to part one of an operatic odyssey in Stuttgart. His Giants Stadium volley provided the coda to six years of colourful football summers painted in glorious green.
But if Houghton's signature goals defined the beginning and the end of one era, perhaps the Dutch also served to neatly encapsulate the period.
For, just as they marked the end of the beginning in 1988, so too did they mark the beginning of the end in 1994.
And, just to be sure, they drove a stake through already broken hearts a year later, in Anfield, to bring down the curtain on the Charlton era.
They would return years later, enabling a reinvigorated Ireland to light the touch paper on another spectacular journey in 2002. Over 40 years, it is impossible to tell the story of Irish football without knowing some of the story of Dutch football.
And it is impossible to tell the story of 1988 and 1990 without knowing some of the story of Wim Kieft.
Eoin Hand's first competitive match as Ireland manager was against the Dutch in September, 1980. The 90 minutes would probably sum up his time as boss, if not as precisely Ireland's relationship with Holland.
A team gilded with emerging and established ball-players adventurously attacked their prey but fell behind to a second-half error; and yet they stirringly responded from 1-0 down to beat the 1978 World Cup finalists.
Maybe this would be their time. "It showed we were no longer underdogs," says Hand.
When they returned to Rotterdam a year later, World Cup qualification from a fiendishly difficult group was within touching distance; twice coming from behind again, the 2-2 draw might have been enough were it not for the larceny committed by Raul Nazare in Brussels six months earlier.
Ireland drew Holland once more in Euro '84 qualifying; the Dutch, who played five in midfield in their opening game against Iceland, were far less conservative when the Irish visited and they led after 30 seconds and dominated with mesmerising football, harking back to their 1970s pomp.
And in Dalymount, Ruud Gullit's switch from sweeper to centre-forward swept the Dutch from a despairing 0-2 to a delighted 3-2 in a squad brimming with the talents - Ronald Koeman, Marco van Basten, Hans van Breukelen - who would soon spine future European champions.
Ireland should have been 3-0 up at half-time and were cheered from the field; at full-time they were jeered and Hand received volleys of abuse. "From a position of great strength, we had squandered the game," he laments.
He would never get a better chance to lead Ireland into the big time. And so the FAI decided to get someone who would.
Holland's emergence did not follow a straight line, either. "I made my debut in that '82 qualifying campaign but didn't make much of an impact," recalls Kieft. "We were rebuilding."
He was already a Golden Boot winner after shooting Johann Cruyff's Ajax to a league title in 1981/'82 with Gerald Vanenburg and Frank Rijkaard.
Kieft, unlike many of his compatriots, always held his fame lightly, at times seemed embarrassed by it. Before picking up his Golden Boot award, he threw up at the side of the stage, such were his nerves.
Meanwhile, the Dutch were struggling, again.
After the explosion into early 1970s prominence as Rinus Michels and Cruyff masterminded totaalvoetbal, they had already started to fade without that duo notwithstanding their passage to a second successive World Cup final loss in 1978.
The team that had lost to Ireland in 1980 contained just one survivor - Ernie Brandts - from the team defeated by Argentina in Buenos Aires.
By the return, Kees Rijvers was now coach; he used 24 players in two games; it was nearly 25. On the morning of the Ireland game, as Rijvers was desperately trying to get Johan Neeskens out of retirement, the exiled Johann Cruyff called to say he would return. Rijvers hung up on him.
Charlton's arrival in Ireland coincided with Michels' return in Holland; so too Cruyff's to Ajax.
After missing three successive major tournaments, club and country were on the rise once more.
At Gelsenkirchen in '88, only Ireland stood in their way. And without Wim Kieft's intervention, they might never have made the summit at all.
"There was a lot of pressure on us and we needed a win to go through," says Kieft. "We had a good team but we were still very inexperienced. We had a lot of success in Europe with club teams.
"PSV won a European Cup, Ajax won a Cup Winners' Cup. We had the Milan trio of Rijkaard, Van Basten and Gullit who won a European Cup.
"We didn't play well against England but Van Basten was fantastic. So now we had hope. We had to win and we were through. Lose and we were gone. Home and ashamed.
"For Ireland, a 0-0 or 1-1 was enough. Ireland were the better team in the first half and they had three chances (fit-again Paul McGrath with the best, a header that caromed the woodwork).
"We didn't play well. I was not in the team. I was never in the team. I was the super sub. But you're only the super sub because somebody else gets tired. John Bosman came on as well."
Kieft was built more like a classical English centre-forward. Holland now packed their side with strikers and pumped balls into the box, in an eerie premonition of a game between the sides years later in Dublin.
As Ireland faded after two tiring games, the fresher Dutch were still not shy about resorting to the derided tactics of their opponents. You'll never beat the Irish? Holland would do so by copying them.
"We had to go direct. Even though we won Euro '88, we could have played much better with the individual qualities we had.
"But at this time, Rinus Michels was a defensive coach. He always thought about organisation and defence. We could have played much better than we actually did.
"It was such a pity for Ireland. Not only because they had a good team. They were a sympathetic team with their supporters. Superb defence.
"England brought problems with them all the time always, always with the fans.
"But with the Irish, it was a big party. A nice atmosphere. That was the big difference.
"There was never any pressure on Ireland. There was always pressure on England, they were always favourites and we always felt that and exploited it in '88 and '90. But we never felt that with Ireland. And that freedom was dangerous, you know?
"We respected them a lot and we were also a little bit afraid. We needed to attack always and try to affect the match but then we were conscious Ireland could pounce.
"Ireland had a good team with a lot of good players. They are coming to my mind now. Chris Hughton? Fantastic. Paul McGrath. Ronnie Whelan. The little man, Aldridge."
Tactically, what did he do when he came on for Erwin Koeman? "Nothing! I needed to stay up front with Van Basten. He was a better player, of course, a better footballer. I was just physically strong, good in the air.
"People made a rivalry at Ajax between us but there wasn't one. He is the best ever. I was just a hard-working guy but he was number one. He was an artist. And he showed that in the final.
"But on this day, I needed to wait for crosses from the side. Just one. That was my job. That was all I needed to do. I came in even earlier than expected. Just to stand in front and wait for a ball. Wait for a chance. And then it came.
"As," he adds almost apologetically, "you already know."
Even though he is still involved in football, the talk of THAT goal tires him; he scored nearly 200 at the rate of a goal every other game in a gilded career (11 in 42 for his country); but for Irish people, it is the only thing he is remembered for.
"I thought it was going wide," the 57-year-old says, almost wanly.
"The ball had such a strange effect. Ronald Koeman didn't hit the shot that well and it had an enormous spin on it. I was just hitting it on a reflex, more or less. I thought it was going wide but then it spun back. I watched it all the way. It was such a strange feeling. I guess sometimes you need a bit of luck, eh?"
And then he looked at his strike partner, standing, offside. And then the linesman, standing, inert.
"Van Basten was offside," he confirms. "Definitely offside."
A job for VAR, you suggest?
"Nee, Nee, Nee!" he protests in his native tongue.
Both teams would return to heroic acclaim but only one of them would so with the trophy. Ireland would never get as close to winning a major tournament in our lifetime as they did in their maiden outing.
The Dutch, too, would never again reach such exalted heights.
"We enjoyed that win. There was a big party. We came out of a bad period with the national team, missing a few tournaments. So this was important."
Kieft and his mates enjoyed the party. Like some of his Irish colleagues, the partying was sometimes excessive. Later, there would be casualties; including Kieft, a victim of alcohol and cocaine addiction in retirement.
"I always had a couple of drinks after matches," he says now. "Until five years ago I stopped drinking." He laughs awkwardly. We have decided not to go there. Not today, at least.
Two years later, the teams also met in group combat but in less fraught circumstances; instead of two teams being eliminated as in 1988, three would advance in 1990; hence, both sides contrived a phoney finish to maintain a mutually satisfactory 1-1 draw.
That was not the only unusual occurrence, as Kieft elaborates.
"It was actually a game I started!" he chortles heartily. "I'd scored against Egypt. As a sub, of course. Terrible match."
Cruyff railed against Leo Beenhakker, stating that captain Gullit should have been dropped, with "demolition man" Kieft deployed alongside Van Basten, and the side instructed to pepper the boxes with crosses, allowing Koeman to stand on the edge of the box to take pot shots.
And, Cruyff added, perhaps Gullit could be brought on, say, after 40 minutes of shock and awe. For all their devotion to the techniek developed by Michels in the mid-'60s, they weren't averse to an orange tint of passie (passion) when it was needed.
"I stayed a sub against England. A terrible bad match.
"And when it came to Ireland I said to Beenhakker, 'Hey coach, maybe you should start me for once, you know?' And to my great surprise he did!"
Kieft, against deploying his hefty bulk as the foil for more skilful colleagues, was the focal point in the build-up to Gullit's storming lead goal; a deft flick from Koeman's delivery - purposeful this time, and without spin - allowing the dreadlocked dynamo to burst through the line and deliver another rapier.
"At least I had that," he says with typical immodesty.
In what was one of the better contests of a dour tournament - Niall Quinn's long-ball leveller prompted the farcical ending as England's lead against Egypt would guarantee all three progressed.
"The word came on a draw was good for both of us. If you know football, it's normal. Why take any risks?"
They drew lots, an illusion of equality, perhaps; yet Ireland got lucky; the Dutch drew Germany against whom, inevitably, they would lose while Ireland, famously, reached the last eight. "The atmosphere against Germany was all wrong within our squad," recalls Kieft, as the trope of Dutch disharmony cemented itself into modern folklore.
"We wanted Cruyff as coach. There was a vote within the squad and Leo won. Leo was a nice guy but we wanted Johann. We lost 2-1 to Germany and it was no surprise we lost given the build-up. Dutch teams are known for division but especially in 1990. It's a pity because we had such a good team then.
"It was a poor tournament for us and overall. World Cups can be a delusion. It's the end of a season, it's always very warm, there is pressure and most of the times the matches are not very good and this wasn't a good tournament. Only the Italy matches held some interest for me. The final was terrible!"
Kieft's international career was winding down but, now at PSV, he won two league titles in the early 1990s under future Ireland assistant Bobby Robson - "a lovely man" - supplying Romario and Ronaldo with multiple bullets.
By the time Holland met Ireland at the 1994 World Cup, their third successive major tournament meeting, Kieft was ending his final season as a professional footballer.
In the searing Orlando heat, Ireland's limited passion play in the Citrus Bowl was unpeeled ruthlessly by the new breed of brilliant Oranj - Marc Overmars, Dennis Bergkamp - combining with the established stars.
Then, despite reaching a play-off for Euro '96, an injury-ravaged side featuring four full-backs, the Dutch, inspired by a gifted youngster named Patrick Kluivert, easily won 2-0, toppling the Charlton era.
The Dutch had inflicted Charlton's first major defeat with Ireland and also his last.
"That team was basically the Ajax team who won the European Cup," says Kieft, then a fledgling pundit. "It was a fantastic Holland team, '96-'98, and in my opinion an even better team than that which won in 1988."
Holland would continue to under-achieve; in 2001, their World Cup hopes ended as Ireland, now under Mick McCarthy, quelled them 1-0 in Dublin on a famous day when the embattled Louis van Gaal sent on four strikers. The ghost of Wim Kieft, however, would not return to thwart Ireland this time.
"IF the Dutch lived in Ireland, they'd feed the world, and if the Irish lived in Holland, they'd drown."
- 19th century saying
Forty years on from a shambolic FAI's part-time manager steering Ireland to victory against the World Cup finalists, there may no anniversary fixture against the Dutch but has much changed?
The game here remains riven by discord and division; just this month it has been revealed that a faction within the FAI, perhaps spited by the overseeing hand of a second successive Dutch import as performance director, have spoken out against the interim leadership.
The previous leadership were partial to a Dutch obsession too; Wim Koevermans was a calamitous appointment; at least Ruud Dokter has provided some medicine to a sickly system.
But the magnificent obsession with all things Dutch is not novel.
A week before that Anfield play-off in 1995, Ajax played a Champions League tie against Ferencvaros in Amsterdam and Pat Dolan, then chief executive of St Patrick's Athletic, was there, keen to see the famed Ajax model at first hand.
The irony was obvious.
Dolan had been the Irish youths captain nearly nine years earlier when Charlton brushed into an Elland Road dressing-room to berate the squad and humiliate its manager, precipitating the end of Liam Tuohy's involvement in youth development; a development Charlton would, aided by the ignorance of many others, effectively paralyse.
In the drunken decade that followed, few cared. Anfield would demonstrate that things needed to change. Brian Kerr, who was also in that Elland Road dressing-room, and was now with Dolan at St Pat's, would soon form part of the renewal until a time came when Irish youth football was once again shamefully ignored.
Throughout the turmoil, Irish football has struggled to form any identity. It is difficult to argue convincingly that recent green shoots have been tinged by any sprinkling of Oranj, despite the misguided intentions.
"Nee, Nee, Nee," demurs Kieft, accompanied by scornful laughter; this witness to a special rivalry knows it is one that could only be formed by difference, even if each nation inevitably shared some similarities.
Indeed Kieft personifies this dichotomy; for he is a man constructed in the same physical image as a Frank Stapleton or a Niall Quinn or a Jonathan Walters, and one well able to enjoy himself in victory and defeat.
Guiding But he insists a national team must be formulated by a native's guiding hand.
"It is not a good idea to try to copy us, or anyone. You can think about playing in a certain way but first you must have the players to play that game and the right man to lead it," he says.
"In Holland, we are born to play our football, technical football. In England and Ireland, it has been totally different and I don't believe a coach can create a team that is different to its country's image."
Ireland's 2020 vision, rudely interrupted, will be to change that perception. Who knows? Perhaps a tournament meeting next summer with a revitalised Holland, another chapter in a special history, can provide the answer.